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WAO clears chief over job evaluation affecting wife, council over lawyer departure

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The chief executive of a county council did not show bias in a job evaluation involving his wife, according to the Wales Audit Office. The watchdog's report has also cleared Powys over the departure of its top lawyer.

Auditors investigated after allegations were made direct to the WAO by senior staff who preferred to bypass Powys’ whistleblowing scheme.

The auditors expressed concern that this was the second time in three years that Powys officers had felt they had to make whistleblowing claims direct to the WAO rather then through the council’s machinery.

“We do need to consider what this tells us about the robustness of the council’s own arrangements and the confidence staff have in these,” they said.

The audit report said: “There is scope to significantly improve the council’s own whistleblowing arrangements; whilst policy and procedural changes can be quickly introduced it may take longer to ensure staff have confidence in the arrangements.”

Chief executive Jeremy Patterson had not wrongly participated in the job evaluation of scrutiny officers, even though one of those involved was his wife, auditors found.

But they questioned the lack of documentation for the scoring method used and said: “The lack of a full and complete audit trail and documentation, means that we can also see how perceptions of bias could occur”.

Officers’ other concerns raised with the WAO included the circumstances surrounding the departure of the Strategic Director of Law and Governance, and the award of a consultancy contract.

The latter showed weaknesses and lack of documentation but was not improper, the WAO said.

The watchdog said it appreciated the concerns from staff, members and the media in relation to the decision that the strategic director's post was declared redundant and that the officer, who had been relatively recently promoted to the role, received a redundancy package in addition to his full pension entitlement.

"However, the recent phasing out of the retirement age for local government workers (and others more widely) is a key consideration in this matter and will remain an important consideration going forward in the context of other officers," the report said. "Essentially, there is no presumption or obligation on employees to retire at age 60 or any other age."

It added: "In this case, although the Strategic Director of Law and Governance would have been able to retire and take his pension without abatement around the time of the Cabinet meeting on 14 June 2011, he was also entitled to continue working should he have wished to do so without any presumption that he would or should retire."

The WAO said: "Our conclusion is that the council followed its own policies when making the post....redundant, and it acquired appropriate independent legal advice which confirmed the actions were reasonable."